Not just personalities
Back in November, when the election was over, the center-left camp seemed to have reached a dead end, and not just because it came up short at the polls. All the elections since 2019 were in fact fought over the same issue – whether Benjamin Netanyahu should be prime minister or not. “Anyone but Bibi”, it turned out, is a catchphrase and not a viable basis for ruling the country. The Bennett-Lapid government’s premise was that they can run the country as long as they ignore their ideological differences. In fact, ideology and values have become ‘politically incorrect’ terms. Not surprisingly, it turned out that the good personal relations within the government were not enough to hold it together, without a common ideology, and with only a slim majority. As it turned out, without an ideology even an effective opposition could not be managed — almost every initiative for staging a fight from the opposition after the election loss failed.
But then came Yariv Levin’s plan for a revolution in the judicial system, which made it clear that Netanyahu’s supporters aspire to more than simply winning elections. What they are aiming for is to entrench their control of the courts by subordinating them to the ruling coalition, and thus dealing a lethal blow to its independence. In effect, they wish to take over the Supreme Court and make ministry legal advisors bend to the whims of politicians. According to media reports, the full plan, which has not yet been disclosed, includes repealing the constitutional status of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, and destroying the Attorney General’s independence. In practice, the rightwing camp wants to turn the wheel more than a generation back.
Levin’s revolution has not yet passed the Knesset, but has already produced one clear result: The center-left camp has discovered its unifying ideology; no longer rejection of the rival leader, but rather — the common path and goal of saving Israeli democracy. In unprecedented fashion, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been pouring into the streets are Saturday nights in order to defend the Supreme Court. Various institutions in Israeli society—from university presidents through senior economists to physicians and lawyers, have taken a firm stand against the Government, and are demonstrating in defense of the checks and balances of Israeli democracy. Perhaps the time has come to give this bloc a new name: The liberal-democratic camp.
As the liberal democrats see it, the planned seizure of control of the judicial system aims to change the face of Israel. The liberal-democratic camp is suffering from severe anxiety with regard to the revolutionary coalition’s support of the right of the ever-expanding ultra-Orthodox sector to detach itself from the Israeli school system and, ipso facto, from the workforce, and impose gender segregation in the public space. It stands aghast at the ultranationalist project of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich to annex the territories and subjugate the Arabs. It screams “gevalt” at Avi Maoz’s plans to promote an anti-LGBTQ worldview. The liberal-democratic camp feels that its very way of life is threatened and believes, with a modicum of realistic pessimism, that if these forecasts come to pass, its children will not choose to live in Israel, the country for which their parents sacrificed their lives.
In matters of ideology and values, exactly as in personal matters, negating the plans of the other camp is not enough. The public enthusiasm present a once in a generation opportunity, to enlist public support for strengthening and entrenching Israel’s liberal democratic identity. This design should include, at the minimum, significant limitation on the power of government, and stronger protection of human rights. In other words, the fault lines in Israeli society are not being redrawn, along the axis that separates liberals from reactionaries. On this axis, it is far from clear which side is the majority and which the minority.
The liberal-democratic camp hasn’t yet found its political leadership, but it has come up with something much more important — a vision and a purpose. If the liberal-democratic camp can sustain this vision and translate it into a plan of action, the next election will be fought over ideology, not over personalities. Every supporter of democracy, in all camps, should embrace this welcome change.